Lebendige Vergangenheit - Emmi Leisner

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Lebendige Vergangenheit

Genuine, unequivocable contraltos are very rare. Occasionally confusion arises as to what actually classifies a singer as a contralto. The difference is less one of vocal extention but rather of a different placing of the tonal fulcrum. In the contralto range this tonal fulcrum is one to two whole tones lower than is the case with the mezzo soprano. The expansive tonal splendour in the lower range enables a refulgent tone that is a special characteristic of this vocal category. The German contralto, Emmi Leisner, was blessed with one of the most beautiful voices of her age. Her father was of Danish origin and despite his rather a-musical profession (ship construction engineer) he had a profound artistic bent, being passionately fond of music and singing. He was a member of several amateur madrigal groups in his home city of Flensburg. Emmi Leisner's mother hailed from Husum and was a superb singer and pianist. Especially in her piano playing she had more talent and proficiency than is usual among hobby pianists and her technique enabled her to play the most demanding works by Bach, Schumann and Brahms. Naturally there was much singing at home and their three daughters were all vocally talented. Emmi, the most gifted, eventually evinced greater musical ambitions than could be condoned by the parents. Already at the age of ten she had fully made up hermind that she was going tobe a concert singer. After her schooling she was sent to Denmark for one year to acquire housekeeping skills. Emmi immediately joined music associations and, when she returned to her parents her progress in piano and vocal studies was so remarkable that there was no further talk of kitchens and housekeeping. Gradually her local reputation gained momentum and when a singer scheduled to appear at a Club concert in Flensburg had to cancel, the 16-year-old was given her first great opportunity. The local press reviewed the concert most favorably and, as a consequence, the parents now agreed to allow their daughter professional tuition. Thus Emmi went to Berlin where she studied for three years with Helene Breest. During this time she also attended lectures at Berlin University and studied art history and philosophy. On completion of her vocal studies she auditioned for several choir masters and conductors and was eventually engaged by Karl Straube, the conductor of Leipzig's world-famous Thomas Choir, as soloist. Her success was enormous and she was feted as a great new oratorio singer. It was in Leipzig that she first appeared on an operatic stage. Both the intendant and the conductor of the Leipzig opera were about to leave for Frankfurt and they asked her to join them in their new engagement. Emmi Leisner made a hugely successful guest appearance in Frankfurt as Amneris. Now the management of the Berlin Opera at last took notice and they asked her to audition - which resulted in an engagement at the Berlin Opera. From 1913-21 she remained there singing Amneris, Dalila, Brangäne, Fricka and Erda. She also gave memorable performances as Gluck' s Orpheus in the then avantguard staging by the Jacques­ Dalcroze-school of Hellerau as well as singing Erda at the Bayreuth Festival. After 1922 she withdrew from the operatic stage and concentrated on Lieder and oratorio work. Here, too, she became intemationally famous. She gave concerts in all major German cities and the adjoining countries as well as in France, England, USA, Denmark, Sweden and the Middle East. Especially impressive were her renditions of Schubert's "Winterreise" and Brahms' "Vier ernste Gesänge". She also helped to popularize the artistic oeuvre of contemporary composers and was regarded as one of the best interpreters of Hans Pfitzner's Lieder. In the oratorio category she was noted for her Bach and Händel interpretations. She gave her last Lieder recital in 1948. As of 1939 Emmi Leisner lived in Kampen on Sylt. She spent the last years of her life passing on her vast experience to her pupils. On the occasion of her 65th birthday she received the specially created Schleswig-Holstein art award. She died in 1958 at the age of seventy-two.